Farming Comment - no war between town and country, please

My business friend, who a couple of weeks ago was telling me how successful his glamping pod enterprise was, has come up with another money-making wheeze.

For farmers and landowners who fear being swamped with townspeople this coming summer he is making little signs saying, “Stay at home, the countryside is full”. Without seeing any irony in the situation, he revealed he had the idea when he himself was visiting Skye which was, he said, “fair buzzing” with visitors last year.

I pointed out this advice might go against his holiday building plan, but he seemed to think he had to have all bases covered and there is no doubt normally quiet rural areas are going to be under pressure from an influx of visitors this coming summer.

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Before anyone says this will be similar to last year when the country was first locked down, I would argue that 12 months ago some people were still heading off to sunnier climes, but that option now seems closed off for most of the summer.

So where are the pressure points when town comes to country and which issues raise the temperatures of urban dweller or rural resident? As anyone who has a field gate opening onto a main road knows, these become informal parking places for visitors and farming priorities, such as spraying crops or even harvesting, are, at the very least, inconvenienced.

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Even more annoying for those living and working on the land is when there is no vehicle blocking the gateway but the visitor has left behind piles of waste or litter which then becomes the responsibility of the landowner to tidy up. This informal dumping, or fly tipping, has multiplied in recent years for a number of reasons including local authorities taking a harder line in what they will take and what they will charge for in their recycling centres.

This activity may seem slightly distant from the issue of possible friction between town and country but increased home improvement work, gardening and even vehicle maintenance, all produce increased levels of waste that have to be dumped somewhere and for many that somewhere is the entrance to a field or a roadside ditch.

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This is part of the widespread and blatant anti-social disregard for any outdoor access code. The situation was indescribably bad everywhere last year, but especially in areas such as on the North Coast 500 route where locals had big problems dealing with other people’s waste. The 500 may be touted as a magnet for visitors but it seems to have been promoted with little thought given to the provision of toilets and accommodation.

This honeypot situation is replicated in many parts of Scotland, especially in areas with no fencing where the public see it as a right to park and camp off road.

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Roadside verges are full of litter and that is only the stuff that does not fly over the fences and dykes where the junk is often picked up by inquisitive livestock. There are few uglier sights than a calf or lamb with a limb stuck inside an old bottle or can.

With the last-minute passage of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill through the Scottish Parliament, there may be a sigh of relief by sheep and shepherds the length and breadth of the country as the new legislation carries with it the threat of a hefty fine and even imprisonment.

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Remarkably, it went through the Parliament without opposition. This must attest to the widespread reaction to witnessing bloodied sheep being savaged by the family pet dog turned killer.

So, there are loads of potential flashpoints to come, especially if the weather brings some decent sunny periods. Ironically, the best hope of avoiding problems would be if our so-called Summer was served up as a damp, soggy and chilly diet.

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I have a general concern when the relationship between town and country dweller breaks down and that is: who wades in to keep the two parties apart and decide which one is right?

A sad consequence of Covid has seen police cast into the front line in maintaining the new laws on social distancing, travelling and general behaviour. As members of a so called civilised society we should be better behaved. Is it too much to hope the above is too pessimistic and there will be no town versus country confrontations?

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